"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Moon, the Masons, and Tranquility Lodge

July 20th will mark the 50th anniversary of the day when two men altered human history by leaving their footprints on another world, 293,000 miles away in space, while a third man orbited over their heads awaiting their safe return. And in Waco, Texas, a group of Freemasons will have special reason to mark the occasion.

While the members of Tranquility Lodge No. 2000 will be reliving and celebrating the historic Apollo 11 Moon mission this week, in reality they are just biding their time. Like all of us who were young kids in 1969 watching blurry black and white images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the Moon on our flickering Zenith console TV sets, the brethren who formed Tranquility Lodge knew in their hearts that by now, they were supposed to be holding their stated meetings on the Moon, and not in Waco. That's what we were all promised — that getting back and forth to our permanent Moonbase in 2019 would be no more of a pain in the butt than flying to Cleveland. Or maybe a little tougher, like LaGuardia. By now, a Moon stopover on the Pan Am Lunar Clipper would just be part of the regular Mars trips and the Jupiter fly-bys, like stopping to see Mount Rushmore while driving to California. So a 2019 Tranquility Lodge meeting would just be a little bit special, much like making a trip to London or Scotland for a special Masonic meeting was in 1969.

But no, they're still meeting in Waco. 

For those who don't know, Tranquility Lodge was chartered as a special lodge in the year 2000 to commemorate Texas Freemason Buzz Aldrin's trip to the Moon as pilot of the Apollo XI Lunar Module, the Eagle, with Mission Commander Neil Armstrong. The motivation behind the lodge was that Aldrin carried with him a Special Deputation from the Grand Lodge of Texas that claimed the Moon to be part of their jurisdiction until such time as a Grand Lodge of the Moon could be created. In addition, he also carried a silk flag for the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction, which is on display today at the House of the Temple in Washington, DC.

From the Tranquility Lodge website:
On July 20, 1969, two American Astronauts landed on the moon of the planet Earth, in an area known as Mare Tranquilitatis , or "Sea of Tranquility". One of those brave men was Brother Edwin Eugene (Buzz) Aldrin, Jr., a member of Clear Lake Lodge No. 1417, AF&AM, Seabrook, Texas. Brother Aldrin carried with him SPECIAL DEPUTATION of then Grand Master J. Guy Smith, constituting and appointing Brother Aldrin as Special Deputy of the Grand Master, granting unto him full power in the premises to represent the Grand Master as such and authorize him to claim Masonic Territorial Jurisdiction for The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Texas, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, on The Moon, and directed that he make due return of his acts. Brother Aldrin certified that the SPECIAL DEPUTATION was carried by him to the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Tranquility Lodge 2000 was Chartered by The Grand Lodge of Texas for the purpose of promoting, encouraging, conducting and fostering the principles of Freemasonry, and to assist in promoting the health, welfare, education and patriotism of children worldwide.
The Grand Lodge of Texas is the first Grand Lodge to have a Member step onto the Moon, Brother Buzz Aldrin, in 1969. Through this event, The Grand Lodge of Texas has Chartered Tranquility Lodge 2000 for the purpose providing Fraternal Assistance to Masonic Organizations and other worthy organizations who help make life better for all living on Earth.
Tranquility Lodge 2000 is based in Texas under auspices of The Grand Lodge of Texas until such time as the Lodge may hold its meetings on the Moon. Our meetings are held quarterly at various cities in Texas, with the annual meeting being held in Waco each July...
For more than you want to know about Tranquility Lodge, there was an excellent article in the Waco Tribune-Herald last weekend.  In the article, it is explained why it wasn't at all strange for astronauts to bring curious items like Masonic flags on their missions into space.

Robert Marshall, manager of Waco Lodge 92, holds the
“special deputation” that Buzz Aldrin carried to the moon.
It was not unusual for astronauts to bring small items into space and present them as souvenirs to civic groups, said Robert Pearlman, a space historian and journalist who was a historical consultant on CNN’s recent “Apollo 11” documentary.

Pearlman said Armstrong and Aldrin both carried flags to the moon that they later shared with the Explorers Club. Aldrin, a Presbyterian elder, also carried the elements to serve communion on the moon lander, he said.

In subsequent missions, Edgar Mitchell brought microfilmed Bibles to the moon, and Charlie Duke would later leave a family photo on the lunar surface.

Space suits had pockets with Velcro patches, but Pearlman suspects Aldrin and Armstrong left most of the souvenir materials in the landing module.

Pearlman has known Aldrin for two decades and created the astronaut’s first website, but he had not heard of the Masonic materials. He said Aldrin is a proud Mason, so it makes sense.

“It is surprising that there’s still stuff to learn about the Apollo mission 50 years later,” he said.
In those days, a surprising number of important figures associated with the NASA manned spaceflight  program were Freemasons. Brother James Edwin Webb was the NASA administrator from 1961-68. Astronauts Edwin E. 'Buzz' Aldrin, Jr.; L. Gordon "Gordo" Cooper, Jr.; Donn F. Eisle; Edgar D. Mitchell; Walter M. "Wally" Schirra; Thomas P. Stafford; and Paul J. Weitz. During his Gemini V flight in August 1965, Gordon Cooper carried an official 33° Jewel and a Scottish Rite flag. At the time of his tragic death in the Apollo I fire at Cape Kennedy on January 27, 1967, Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom was an Indiana Mason. Kenneth S. Kleinknecht, a manager on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Programs, was a 33° Scottish Rite Mason, and if his name seems familiar, his brother was former Sovereign Grand Commander of the SJ, C. Fred Kleinknecht, 33°. In many ways, Freemasons stood on the cutting edge of what looked like the new Age of Exploration of the universe. They were proud of their membership and they weren't shy about telling anyone.

Tranquility Lodge accepts Masons from all over the world as members, and offers no degrees. They meet quarterly, with their annual meeting every July in Waco, and at various locations during other times of the year.
“We’ve got a real widespread membership — Germany, Japan, Holland,” he said. “We have about 1,200 members. … We have way less members than we’d like. We’d like to have 10,000 members. That would give us an endowment to really be a factor in some charitable efforts.”

The organization raises money for scholarships in science and engineering careers, for science educators and for graduate education related to space and aeronautics. The organization supports the Conrad Foundation, which supports science education in honor of late astronaut Pete Conrad.

“The lodge is designed to do some interesting things, some important things,” said Phil Morehead, an Abilene attorney who is active in the lodge. “We’re hoping to support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) at the lower level, and we’re hopeful we can find a program we can support in Texas.”
But still... Waco? Not the Moon? In 2019?

It seems that Giant Leaps just don't happen anymore. No one alive then ever dreamed we'd never go back to the Moon after Apollo XVII in 1972Only a dozen humans have ever stepped out of a spacecraft and onto the surface of another world. Two-thirds of them are now dead, although feisty Brother Aldrin is still alive and kicking strong to get us back into space again for real.  NASA and its bloated contractors have now taken longer to develop a new manned space capsule just to get from Florida to the International Space Station than it took to design the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules combined, with a Lunar Module and Moon Buggy thrown in. And those were designed with pencils and slide rules, not computers. Or even so much as a pocket calculator. We're now hitching rides on Russian Soyuz capsules designed 55 years ago. Elon Musk recently tried to send a Tesla to orbit Mars, but I'm guessing that the battery ran down after a few thousand miles with the air conditioning and headlights on. In any case, it missed Mars. Meanwhile, Richard Branson's space tourism rocket plane still hasn't entered service, but its greatest breakthrough is that it will be "carbon neutral." And this took a half century to accomplish.

Back in 1969, Guy Smith, the Texas Grand Master who issued the deputation carried to the Moon by Brother Aldrin, explained why he did it. Smith said that he saw this "Masonic Moon mission" as a gesture toward "Harmony on Earth." He had been a Texas Highway Patrolman, and was described then as "a quiet and modest, but very efficient man." There was an awful lot of talk at that time during the news coverage about peace, and the world, and Mankind as a whole. If you look closely at the Apollo 11 patch that was designed by Michael Collins, it features an American eagle swooping down to the Moon — not with bared talons, but with an olive branch of peace. The plaque left behind affixed to the base of the Lunar Module says, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."

Three years before, the cover of a now-infamous 1966 Time magazine issue had asked "Is God Dead?" and with good reason.

Consider that the Vietnam War was still raging; the Cold War with Russia (that had motivated the Space Race to begin with) was still quite real, and nuclear holocaust was an everyday fear; countless U.S. cities were the scenes of rioting; both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in 1968; the civil rights battles over very real racial segregation remained bloodthirsty; the Six-Day War in the Middle East between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations had happened two years before, setting off decades of ongoing violence; military coups toppled the governments of several nations; India and Pakistan were in a race to build atomic bombs as religious weapons (the Hindu Bomb vs. the Islam Bomb).

But at just about midnight on that Saturday night in July 1969 when Armstrong first stepped onto the Moon, the whole world stopped for a moment, wherever they were, looked up, and realized just how tiny and petty we really were back here on Earth. 

More than 650 million people simultaneously watched and heard Neil Armstrong tell us all that Mankind wasn't really finished after all. There isn't another human achievement in history that so firmly united nearly every single person on Earth in mutual agreement. And wonder. 

That's what was on the mind of Grand Master Guy Smith at the time. “Just as a Mason set foot on the Moon, can’t Masonry help solve some of today’s problems?” Smith asked in his article. “Can’t our teachings of Charity and Brotherly Love be used to lead America out of its current dilemma?”

Maybe it still can. Maybe it can.

So take this opportunity to read about the Moon missions this week, or catch some of the many documentaries that are being run. Consider a membership to Tranquility Lodge. And, if you have a mind to, hoist a toast to three of the bravest explorers the world has ever known: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Brother Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.

AASR-SJ Sovereign Grand Commander Seale Announces Retirement

Illus. Ronald A, Seale, 33°, the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite - Southern Jurisdiction has officially announced his retirement, effective next month. He has served in this position for 16 years, since October of 2003.

The announcement was made in his most recent Grand Commander’s message just published in the July/August Scottish Rite Journal, though it has been known for some time.

The Grand Commander in the Southern Jurisdiction stands for election every two years, but Seale will not do so this August. My understanding is that the SJ does not have a search committee as the NMJ does. Instead, the thirty-three members of their Supreme Council will hold a closed session in mid-August to elect their new Commander for the new two-year term of office.

Best wishes to Ron Seale and his wife 'Sunny' as they finally rediscover what "free time" looks like.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Man Arrested Burglarizing New Hampshire Masonic Temple

A man was arrested on Monday while in the act of stealing items from the Masonic temple in Manchester, New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire Union Leader reported the following story earlier today:

Joseph McDonough
An Allenstown man is charged with burglary after he was arrested Friday afternoon at the Masonic Temple, allegedly with a backpack full of items, police said.
Manchester police said they received multiple alarms from the Elm Street temple about 2:20 p.m.
When police arrived, they heard footsteps upstairs and shortly afterward a man walked down the stairs.
Police charged Joseph McDonough, 30, with burglary. Police said they were unable to determine a monetary value of the items allegedly stolen.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

AMC's 'Lodge 49' Returns August 12

Fans of AMC's hit show Lodge 49 can rejoice. The network has decided to renew the show for Season 2. 

Episode 1 of Season 2 will be titled All Circles Vanish. Make of that what you wilt. It airs August 12th.

As Dud says, "Life is good."

AMC has removed the first season from its website, so to catch up you'll have to pay a $9.99 rental to the goniffs at Amazon Prime.

By the way, Brother Andy Frazier in Georgia reports that parts of Lodge 49 have been filmed in Decatur at the hall of Pythagoras Lodge 41 and in Atlanta at the Yaarab Shrine Temple

Pythagoras Lodge 41 in Decatur, GA

Yaarab Shrine in Atlanta
See, you knew Lodge 49 was waaay too authentic to have just been imaginary...

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Be On The Lookout For Stolen Masonic Jewels

A collection of twenty antique English Masonic jewels and collars has been stolen from a lodge in Warwickshire, England. 

According to a story yesterday in the Warwick Courier, the jewels were on display in a cabinet inside of a meeting room at Alderson House on High Street in Warwick. They were stolen at the beginning of July. 

Brethren are encouraged to keep an eye out for these items turning up for sale online or elsewhere.

It is believed that the items are valued between £6,000 to £10,000 [US$7,500 - $12,500].

The Alderson House Freemasons are now appealing to the community for help in tracking down the items.
[Peter Round, manager of Alderson House] said: "If anybody has been offered these please let us know. These are made of paste and silver, not diamonds like they might think.
"It is the importance of them which is valuable to someone who is a collector of these things.
"A proper collector is probably a Freemason anyway so they would want to know where they have came from.

"I think it was an opportunist theft.

Alderson House is the meeting place of Shakespeare Lodge 284 and Lodge of Warwick 8011, among others. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Site of Harry Truman's Historic Masonic Visit Damaged By Fire


Fire broke out at about 3 AM Monday morning at Beech Grove Lodge 694 on the south side of Indianapolis. 

Beech Grove Lodge is noteworthy in Indiana’s Masonic history, as well as to the cultural heritage of the fraternity. 
In 1948, President Harry S Truman famously snuck away from the press during a campaign stopover in Indianapolis to attend the Master Mason degree of Donald Bauermeister, a young sailor from Indiana who was his physical therapist on board the Presidential Yacht back in Washington. The President was crisscrossing the Midwest on a whistle stop campaign tour, and was traveling through Indiana at the time. Don and his father had attended Truman’s stump speech in Kokomo earlier in the day, and were invited by the President to ride in his private railroad car the rest of the way into the city. While underway, Truman suddenly informed his staff that he wished to visit the Beech Grove Masonic lodge that evening. 

Harry Truman was an enthusiastic Freemason. Before becoming President in 1945, Truman had served as Grand Master for the Grand Lodge of Missouri, and remained an active supporter of the fraternity all his life. 

Rumors of the President’s ‘secret’ trip to Beech Grove that night spread like wildfire, especially among the railroad community. The Secret Service had taken pains to convince the press that Truman had gone to bed early aboard his train at Union Station, and even used a body double decoy to convince them. Nevertheless, over a thousand people gathered in the streets outside of the lodge to try to catch a glimpse of the President entering the Masonic Hall at 7th and Main Streets.

He arrived just before the second section of the degree began, and nearly three hundred Masons packed into the lodge room, the social areas, and even lined the staircase. Because Masonic degree rituals are considered secret, Truman’s non-Mason security agents were not permitted to actually enter the lodge room during the ceremony. Forced to wait nervously outside, the President assured them he was in the safest possible place on Earth. Inside, Truman was invited to preside over the ceremony, and sat in the Master’s chair. When asked how he wanted to be formally introduced to the gathered members and visitors, he humbly declined the presidential title and instead asked to be identified simply as a Past Grand Master of Missouri.

Monday's blaze started on the second floor near the East in the lodge room, and authorities have determined the fire was caused by an electrical problem. Thankfully, there were no injuries. The lodge room and about a third of the roof and attic area are a total loss, but the flames were confined to those areas by the closed Tyler's and Preparation room doors. 

The present hall of Beech Grove Lodge was dedicated in 1942. Because of the major structural loss and tremendous water and smoke damage, it is expected that the building will be gutted and rebuilt, but the exterior facade will be retained.

Charters of the lodge and the Eastern Star chapter were both consumed by the fire. On Wednesday members and work crews were hurriedly attempting to remove all surviving paper records and any other salvageable items, as the building is now unstable.

Members of the lodge report that the famous meeting’s 1948 register book with the President’s signature suffered smoke damage from the fire, along with original photographs from the event. The Master's chair that President Truman sat in is currently buried under the collapsed portion of the roof beams, but a preliminary look holds out the possibility that it can be salvaged. 

Local news station WXIN Fox 59 aired a follow up report by reporter Nick McGill about the lodge on Wednesday, featuring an interview with Worshipful Master Kevin Upshaw. SEE IT HERE.

The Masonic ring given to Don Bauermeister by his parents and handed to him by Harry Truman himself, along with his Masonic Bible signed by the President are still safely on display at the Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana, located in the Indianapolis Masonic Temple.

Details about Truman's visit to Beech Grove Lodge in 1948 can be found in Dwight L. Smith's Goodly Heritage (1968), Allen E. Roberts' Brother Truman (1985), and most recently in my own book, Heritage Endures (2018).

Sunday, July 07, 2019

GL of Arkansas and Shriners International May Be Burying the Hatchet At Last

(Some details of this story have been updated as of 11AM 7/7/2019.)

It's not over yet, but the long-running feud between the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and Shriners International may at last be coming to a positive resolution.

Since November 2012, the Grand Lodge of Arkansas has forbidden the Masons in its jurisdiction to be members of the Shrine. The Grand Master at that time, Robert L. Jackson, issued a letter that declared the Shrine "clandestine" in Arkansas, and all Masons in the state were suddenly ordered to either quit their Shrine membership, or "self-expel" themselves (a curious, irreversible procedure that few - if any - other grand lodges practice).

The argument at that time concerned an Arkansas Mason who held a dual membership in another state, along with belonging to an Arkansas Shrine. He was brought up on Masonic charges and expelled in Arkansas, but was not suspended by the Shrine at that time because his other state's Grand Lodge had not taken any action against him. The Shrine's position was that he was still legally a Freemason outside of Arkansas, and therefore was still entitled to remain a Shriner. MW PGM Jackson disagreed, ordered the Shrine to expel him, they refused, and so he issued his edict. 

The result was an enormous drop in Masonic membership in Arkansas that far exceeded the comparative membership losses that any other Masonic jurisdiction has suffered in the U.S. The sheer number of expulsions in Arkansas since 2013 has been staggering.

Jackson's order might have meant the end of the Shrine in Arkansas. Because of the untenable situation in which they found themselves, Shriners International changed its bylaws and created a loophole for Arkansas that permitted non-Masons to become Shriners there. That by-law change has been in place since 2013. 

Meanwhile, PGM Robert Jackson went on to become the Grand Secretary of Arkansas in 2016. Numerous Arkansas Masons reported that his office allegedly stopped issuing letters of good standing to fleeing Arkansas Masons who attempted to transfer their membership to jurisdictions in other states like Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and elsewhere. The Grand Lodges of Oklahoma and Kansas both withdrew amity with Arkansas, partially over these issues.

Jackson was suspended in 2017 by then-GM Carl E. Nelson, along with Grand Treasurer, PGM Ronnie Hedge. Hedge is now one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Grand Lodge of Arkansas (which is a whole different story). At the end of his term as Grand Master in 2018, PGM Nelson was elected as Grand Secretary. 

But a new wrinkle developed earlier this summer. The outgoing 2018-19 Grand Master Bradley Phillips (photo) issued a Grand Master's Recommendation at the 2019 Arkansas annual meeting that finally has proposed a way to end to the needless impasse with the Shrine. 

The Recommendation reclassifies the Shrine in Arkansas from a clandestine organization to a civic one for the next three years; permits non-Mason Arkansas Shriners to petition lodges; permits self-expelled Arkansas Masons to petition for reinstatement, along with all other Masons in the state who had previously been expelled by former Grand Masters or trial commissions over their Shrine memberships or activities; and the decisions to reinstate such expelled Masons will rest in the hands of local lodges, not the Grand Lodge or its officers. At the end of three years, if all members of Arkansas Shrines have become Masons in that state (or in another jurisdiction recognized by Arkansas) once again, the Shrine will again be classified as a fully recognized fraternal organization under Arkansas Masonic code. In return, all remaining Shriners in Arkansas who have NOT become Masons by the end of the three year period will be expected to be suspended by the Shrine, and the non-Mason loophole created by this whole imbroglio by the Shrine will be ended.

(I have only seen page one of the Recommendation. Click image below to enlarge.)

The attending delegates at the annual meeting overwhelmingly voted in favor of the proposal, and Phillips was also elected as their new Grand Secretary, replacing Carl Nelson.  The adopted recommendation also has the support of current 2019-20 Arkansas Grand Master Jesse Don Sexton. 

This past week in Nashville, Shriners International held its 145th annual Imperial Session. The Arkansas Recommendation was partially re-drafted as a Resolution for the Shrine, and was enthusiastically adopted by their delegates. This has now resulted in the Shrine organizing a working group from the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and members of the Sahara and Scimitar Shrines in Arkansas to begin the transition process outlined. 

By the time you read this, if I understand the original Recommendation correctly, the Shrine is no longer considered "clandestine" by Arkansas, and is merely to be treated as a civic organization now. (Please contact the Grand Secretary's office to verify this, as I may be misunderstanding the actual timing.)

Further, Shriners International will move forward with a plan to restore regular Masonic membership as a prerequisite for becoming a Shriner once again into their bylaws, as it historically has been before. The working group's complete report is due no later than the end of this year.

And then, if all goes well within the proposed three year time frame, all of this stürm und drang will finally come to an end, and Masonic careers of countless dedicated Arkansas brethren that have been devastated by this feud may be restored at last.

(The adopted Shrine Resolution can be seen below. Click to enlarge.)

Friday, July 05, 2019

Tim Wallace-Murphy Passes Away

Dr. Tim Wallace-Murphy has passed away this week after a very long struggle with COPD. He was 89 years old. The Irish-born writer and lecturer—known for his works about the Knights Templar, as well as spiritual and esoteric subjects—was the author of thirteen books over the years, and appeared in countless documentaries. His books included: Hidden Wisdom—Secrets of the Western Esoteric Tradition; Rosslyn—Guardian of the Secrets of the Holy Grail; and The Enigma of the Freemasons—Their History and Mystical Connections.

Brother Wallace-Murphy was a Freemason and a member of Lodge Robert Burns Initiated No. 1781 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was devoted to the support, excavation, and restoration of Rosslyn Chapel over the years.

Tim Wallace-Murphy was born in Galway, Ireland, on the 13th of January 1930. After attending the University College Dublin from 1953-58, he obtained a degree in Medicine, and later one in Psychology. 

Tim spent his final years living in the Languedoc region of southwest France with his wife, Cyndi.

The following message appeared on his Facebook page on Wednesday, July 3rd:
It is with profound sadness that we wish to announce that Dr Tim Wallace-Murphy, 89, has passed away at his home in the South West of France, having been in a ‘slow hurry’ with his battle with COPD. Dying as he put it ‘was not all it cracked up to be’. He was surrounded by loved ones. 
A father, an inspiration and a friend to many, his death will be felt not just in Espéraza but around the world. He was born on 13 January 1930 in Galway to Timothy and Mae Murphy, later describing himself as a Franco-Irish Yiddisher boy with both feet firmly stuck in mid-air. After attending the University College Dublin from 1953 - 1958, he obtained a degree in Medicine and later one in Psychology. He then travelled across Europe and Africa for ten years before returning to England and beginning work as a clinical psychologist.
Through his work, Tim met author Trevor Ravenscroft with whom he co-authored his first book Mark of the Beast in 1988. Following this tome, Tim then devoted his life to the writing and research of the Knights Templar, Rex-Deus and pathways of spirituality.
Tim was a dedicated supporter of the restoration and preservation of Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh, Scotland, undertaking excavations and field work with a team of like-minded people, whom would become lifelong friends. From this experience, he produced the book Rosslyn: Guardian of the Secrets of the Holy Grail. It is from this book that Dan Brown used as source material for his own work The Da Vinci Code. Tim found himself subsequently featuring in TV documentaries and began to settle in the South West of France or to Tim, ‘paradise’. 
Tim has had a proud career in community work and politics, having served as the Governor of South Devon Technical College, a TUC secretary, town councillor and a volunteer for the Leukaemia Research Fund. Tim dedicated his life in service to others and helping those who were also brought up spiritually confused on to a spiritual pathway. 
A service for friends and loved ones will be held to remember Tim at a later date; however as in life and death, funds are limited. If you wish to help with the arrangements financially, please use the following link: https://www.gofundme.com/funeral-for-tim-wallacemurphy 
Tim left many memories and many will be fondly remembered, such as his remarkable singing ability and razor sharp intellect. When asked shortly before his passing how he was feeling, he commented that “I will feel much better when this bloody thing is all over.” As we grieve, Tim’s humour lasted out to the last.
Requiescat in pace.

Masons On the Wireless: 'The Man Who Would be King' from 1947

Driving home through South Dakota and Idaho on our long road trip, Sirius Radio's Radio Classics aired an old episode of 'Escape' tonight featuring Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would be King. 

It first aired on CBS Radio 72 years ago, July 7, 1947.

It actually did a pretty fair job of telling the whole story in 30 minutes, complete with the important Masonic references in the adventure tale. ("They all be Fellow Crafts!"). It was adapted by the veteran radio writer, Les Crutchfield, and featured Raymond Lawrence as Peachy, Eric Snowden as Daniel, and Herbert Rawlinson as Kipling.

This classic adventure story about a pair of ambitious rogues whose Masonic membership plays such an important role in far off Kafiristan was eventually made into an outstanding motion picture in 1975 by director John Huston, starring Sean Connery as Daniel, Michael Caine as Peachy, and Christopher Plummer as Kipling. If you've never seen it, stop whatever you're doing right now and go bookmark it to watch tonight on Amazon or your favorite movie provider.

Monday, July 01, 2019

How the 1960s Really Killed American Freemasonry's Future

When critics of Freemasonry opine that fraternities like ours aren't suited to Modern Man™ or Modern Society™, they might very well be right. But the problem is that those critics don't seem to really know just WHY they are right.

When I was writing Heritage Endures two years ago, I was working on a chapter addressing the thorny issue of membership numbers, and how they have affected American Freemasonry since about 1960. I was writing specifically about Indiana, but I looked out at the larger American landscape to see what grand lodges had done since the 1950s in reaction to falling numbers of men becoming Masons. The short answer is that they made BIG changes, and most were not for the better. 

In my own way, I was engaging in the very sort of monster hunting that I have accused others of in an effort to see just what the original tipping point really was that sent us into a shrinking membership. I never found it before my deadline, but I didn't really care at the time, because I was actually just wanting to chronicle what changes had resulted: things like reduced proficiency standards, one-day classes, printed rituals, open recruitment, advertising, lowering of petitioning ages to 18, and lots more were all done to address shrinking numbers of petitioners and ongoing participation. If you want the stories about those changes, you need to read the book. But those were all effects, not the cause.

Well, I think I've stumbled into it. At least, I think it was a MAJOR cause, if not THE cause. and you might think I'm crazy or just engaging in rank nostalgia for some misty, forgotten era that never existed. And I'm not. 

I'm dead serious.*

It was the death of the McGuffey Readers in America's schools.

In 1837, an American son of Scottish immigrants named William Holmes McGuffey was teaching in Ohio, and he was asked by a Cincinnati printer to devise a series of books to teach children how to read. McGuffey had worked as a traveling teacher since the age of 14, and eventually became a lecturer on theology at Ohio's Miami University. Between 1836-37, he created four volumes of graded readers (eventually expanded to six, with the help of his brother Alexander). The first volume of McGuffey's Eclectic First Reader for Young Children began with the simplest of phrases and the basics of phonics, just as most of us have learned to read today: A cat and a rat. The lad has a hat. See the frog on the log. And so on. Each succeeding chapter and subsequent volumes became more complex as the reading level rose. The books also taught children how to write, showing examples of handwritten sentences, and requiring kids to practice with chalk on slate to emulate them.

The McGuffey Readers became enormously popular almost instantly. They were snatched up by American teachers all over the growing nation, and this coincided with the explosion of demands in the 1820s and 30s for public education in every new state. McGuffey's method was vastly superior to the way the Founding Fathers had learned to read and write, by rote memorization and endlessly writing proverbs in a copybook.

As a direct result of McGuffey's books and the teaching method that came about, the Americans who fought in the Civil War in the 1860s as 20-year olds were the first literate, mass-educated generation in the modern world. That's why Civil War-era letters and diaries from soldiers on both sides of the conflict are so vivid and numerous today, compared to previous eras.

Between the first editions in 1836-37, all the way through 1960, more than 130 million McGuffey Readers were sold, and it has been conservatively estimated that each copy was read by at least ten students. That's how pervasive they were. And that's why when the McGuffey Readers were yanked out of schools in the early 1960s, it has had what is clearly a direct and arguably corrosive effect on society at large, and for the purposes of this story, on Freemasonry itself. Here's why.

The more advanced Readers contained increasingly sophisticated stories and excerpts of what were (and still are) considered the Classics: the Bible, Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson, John Milton, Byron, Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, founding fathers like Franklin and Jefferson. As children learned to read and the volumes advanced, they were introduced to the great works of literature and taught not to fear them. McGuffey himself was a Scots Presbyterian, a Calvinist at heart, a Biblical scholar, and he taught theology. Consequently, as they progressed, the books instilled his messages of what he saw as universal beliefs, habits and manners in every single student who learned to read using his Reader. The Biblical passages were used to teach moral lessons, not religious or denominational ones. The non-Biblical readings also taught allegories, explained historical events, or told heroic tales of acclaimed heroes of the past. There were poems, tales of excitement and daring, cautionary fables, and countless others that became the shared fabric of what "everybody knew" in America. 

Additionally, McGuffey's method stressed the importance of speaking properly. Generations of children were encouraged to memorize passages from the books to be recited aloud. This was their first experiences in speaking in public, along with the mental discipline of memorization. McGuffey's instructions in the books urged students to engage in discussions to more fully understand what they had read about. In this way, children were taught the basics of logic and public oratory.

In the 1870s after McGuffey's death, his books were revised and the reading passages were updated. At that time, the Readers were given a facelift with new illustrations, and new messages replaced some of the Biblical readings, but certainly not all. Critics had complained that the original books didn't apply to the enormous new waves of immigrants who came to America, which is why they were revised with more specifically American themes at that time. They were made more patriotic in nature, and taught what we call today the civil religion - what later critics sneeringly came to mock as 'middle-class values' in the 1960s and afterward. Even the most innocuous of reading exercises gently nudged messages about responsibilities: bravery, honor, manners, mutual respect, doing good, not being rude, sharing, friendship, industriousness, and charity. In other words, guidelines for being a good citizen.

All of these were in line with what the Founders had regarded as the founding principles that were absolutely necessary to the success of the American experiment of a democratic republic. The Founders agreed that the public was nothing more than a mob if they weren't equipped with a basic moral code they wouldn't violate when no one was looking. That was the only way the new American society could possibly work without falling apart. McGuffey provided that handbook in a pretty effortless manner, even to those who would never set foot in a church or crack open Deuteronomy.

Modern scholars and sociologists want to pig-wrestle McGuffey's Readers (the very few alive today who know about them) into the blame game that hurls race and gender roles into the wider societal slop bucket - and nearly every other discussion these days - but that's not at all a fair estimation of the enormous and pivotal role the Readers had. They became the common currency of general knowledge for nearly every single American child - from the children of millionaires, Supreme Court justices, and captains of industry, right down to the kids of street sweepers, coal miners and ditch diggers. Toney kids from Philadelphia's Main Line, Boston's Beacon Hill, and the FFV's of Virginia in 1950 learned to read the very same stories and learn the same lessons and moral code that freed slaves, illiterate immigrants, and backwoods dirt farmers and their children did in 1870. 

More than any other influence on America, the McGuffey Reader became the great leveler for almost a century and a half.

The Age of Snark didn't begin in the 2000s, it started in the mid-50s. By the 1960s, McGuffey's books were branded as hopelessly out of date and out of touch with "modern society." McGuffey's Readers were put on the chopping block and eliminated in favor of the Dick and Jane stories, blanched of the virtues, patriotism, morals and manners messages. Gone, too, were the standardized Classical reading excerpts found in the more advanced Readers. So were were McGuffy's readings about rural life and ethics, in favor of SRA reading exercises that leaned more heavily on the cynicism and "sophistication" of city dwellers (overwhelmingly New Yorkers) regarding small town life and "middle-class morality."  Thus, the almost universally shared cultural messages passed on to tens of millions of American children each year that made the country so homogenous in attitudes when they entered adulthood - regardless of race, gender, national origin, religion, or social class - were eliminated in less than a decade. The second half of the Baby Boomers became the first generation to learn how to read without McGuffy's guiding voice about ethics, virtue, morality, manners, language, and introduction to the Classics. No generation of American children since has shared that common basis of education on a widespread basis. And what used to be called the 'Melting Pot' of America was replaced by what modern sociology majors call the 'Salad Bowl,' in which we now share very little in common.

With the death of McGuffey's Readers went so much that helped Freemasonry to grow to its enormous size in the 1870s, again in the 1920s, and finally in the 1950s. That common, shared set of principles, morals and literary knowledge that was taught to almost every child all across the country was baked into the cakes of the millions of men who joined (and grew) our Masonic lodges. They all learned it exactly the same way, and even your 80-year old grandparents today can likely still recite some passage they learned as a child in a Reader from memory. Few Americans have ever read the Bible cover to cover in this or any other age. But the passages in McGuffey were everyone's collective knowledge base, because nearly everyone had read them. The reading selections were overwhelmingly optimistic, uplifting, laudatory, and at times cautionary. Consequently, they were even more influential than any church on the mass consciousness of all Americans for 130 years.

Those very same messages were reinforced by the lessons in the fraternal groups that grew by leaps and bounds during the very same era - Freemasonry included (along with the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias, the Red Men, the Woodmen, and hundreds more). Consider that those pre-1960s generations were not put off by what many today see as tortured language in the rituals, or Albert Pike's prose. What many modern Masons see as creaky or anachronistic stage plays in the Scottish Rite were common currency up to three generations ago, when your next-door neighbors were still actively involved in local theater groups, and every teenager learned debating and speech making. 

The morality plays of Masonic ritual were analogous to a live theater version of McGuffey for generations of Freemasons. The lessons of Freemasonry that stress virtues like fortitude, justice, temperance and prudence were found as often in McGuffey as in the Old Testament. That was true for members of mainstream grand lodges in the U.S. and Prince Hall-derived ones alike. Take a look at the contents of the Fifth Reader: the second and third readings were lessons about "The Poor Widow" and "The Orphan." There's "The Just Judge" and "Decisive integrity" and "The Intemperate Husband."  There's a passage about "The Festal Board" and "True Wisdom." There's "A Hebrew Tale" and "Death and Life." 

When grand lodges 'back East' like Virginia and Pennsylvania first sent charters for new lodges into the expanding wilderness as America grew westward in the late 1700s, their reasons were simple: to educate and civilize a rough and rugged population in regions that had no formal schools. Masonic lodges didn't carry the denominational baggage that the competing churches did, and they taught something that the churches weren't: how to effectively operate a democratic society in a world that had little experience at it at the time. But Masonry didn't achieve explosive growth until the end of the Morgan Anti-Masonic period and after the end of the Civil War because society was still largely illiterate. The majority of Americans in 1825 would have little or no appreciation of the Liberal Arts and Sciences because they had no experience of the concepts. But a growing number of adult American men over 20 years of age by 1865 DID have a basic understanding, and McGuffey's readers were the reason. And by 1870, grand lodges were chartering lodges by the hundreds each year - so fast that influential Masonic leaders became alarmed that they were growing too big, too quickly.

After American Freemasons topped more than 4 million in 1959, the decline began the very next year from which the fraternity has never rebounded. And it wasn't just the Masonic fraternity, either. Both Robert Putnam and Theda Skocpol wrote seminal studies around 2000 that recorded the dramatic plunge in America's voluntary associations and chapter-based organizations of all kinds after 1960 — from lodges like the Masons, Odd Fellows, Elks, and Eagles, to PTAs, card-playing clubs, bowling leagues, and the American Red Cross. Church attendance has been in a steady decline since that time, as well. Americans didn't want to associate with each other any more. But we've lost something more than just the desire to be with other people. 

It was by 1960 that the McGuffey Readers were entirely phased out nationally (although it started in the 1930s), and I would argue that Freemasonry and other similar institutions cannot recover because Americans — and all Westerners — no longer share those common cultural guidelines anymore. Freemasonry is, at its core, a Western philosophy that put the ideals of the English and French Enlightenment into concrete practice. But just like the democratic republic of the United States, its success is predicated upon a certain commonality of shared ethics, behavior and knowledge among its potential members. What Freemasonry teaches our members goes hand in hand with the 'civil religion' that the Founders believed to be essential. Without it, the whole thing collapses like last week's leftover broccoli. And that should concern all of us. 

In an age when no one "knows" anything anymore and our collective memory has been replaced by consulting Wikipedia on our iPhones while seeking 'likes' for our Twitter post one-liners, there's a whole lot more in danger now than just fewer Masons showing up for stated meetings. It is probably simplistic to say, but you can arguably trace much of the rank incivility and bleak pessimism that is so rampant today directly to the replacement of McGuffey's lessons by Howard Zinn and his ilk's deliberate anarchy, revisionism, and miserablism in the textbooks that have dominated schools since the late 1960s.

The McGuffey  Readers are still in print to this day, and still being used. In 1985, there were 150,000 sold. Today, they still sell about 30,000 a year, and they remain popular with private schools and home school families. So if I follow this premise to its logical conclusion, Freemasonry may have its greatest future among the young men educated in those types of environments.

But that's another article.

*As we used to say in the advertising business, 'Where do ideas come from? Somebody else!' I veered into this notion of McGuffy's Readers and the effects on society by their disappearance in Charles Murray's brilliant study, Coming Apart (2012). Anyone wanting to explore the death of middle-class mores and culture in the U.S. between 1960 and 2010 needs to start with Murray's book, which statistically lays out his case in black and blue. Murray's a dirty word in academic circles these days, and that's because he can back up his assertions with real facts and figures instead of feelings and opinions. It should be the next book you read after Putnam's Bowling Alone and Theda Skocpol's Diminished Democracy.